By: Connie Lewin, SHE Global Fellow; Sustainable Health Enterprises is a winner of the Women Deliver 50.
Rarely mentioned in public, this taboo subject is steeped in fear and shame. It’s often hushed about behind closed doors and some girls and women even face social stigma if they are known to have it. This taboo is not any type of disease, but a natural occurrence for half of the global population. The shroud of secrecy that covers menstruation is widespread, and it has resulted in significant costs to public health, economic development, and girls’ and women’s dignity.
Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE) is debunking the status quo of treating menstruation as a hidden taboo. SHE invests in people and ideas that would traditionally not be seen as vehicles of change in emerging markets. Its first initiative, SHE28, is addressing girls' and women's lack of access to affordable menstrual pads leading to significant costs in education, productivity, health, and dignity.
Millions of girls and women around the world are missing school and work opportunities because they don't have access to affordable feminine care products when they menstruate. Currently, girls and women face few or no options to manage their hygiene needs in a healthy and financially sustainable way. They can look to either pricey multinational brands which are worth more than a day’s wages (i.e. Rwanda) or traditional methods such as rags, which in combination with the lack of a clean and accessible water supply, are often unhygienic. Coupled with inadequate gender-sensitive toilets and washing facilities, as well as minimal knowledge of menstrual health and hygiene management, the impact of menstruation for girls and women is further exacerbated. In Rwanda, SHE estimates that the loss in work productivity and schooling has a “blood cost” of up to USD $115 million a year.
SHE is stemming these costs with its disruptive product innovation, the SHE LaunchPad. Along with its technical partners at MIT, North Carolina State University, the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology, and former Kimberly Clark leaders, SHE developed a ground-breaking, patent-pending, mechanical process to make banana fibers the absorbent core of a menstrual pad without using any chemicals and/or super absorbent polymers. SHE’s product innovation is part of SHE28’s three-pronged solution: (1) mitigating the taboo around menstruation via advocacy, (2) rolling SHE’s health and hygiene education within the national curriculum and training guidelines, and (3) launching local franchises led by local women to manufacture and distribute the LaunchPads.
Julian Kayibanda, a Rwandese national and SHE COO of Rwanda, is at the helm of piloting industrial-scale manufacturing and SHE’s first franchise in Rwanda. So far, SHE28 has reached 5,000 girls and women by delivering its health education and advocacy and more affordable pads via small-scale distribution franchises in East Africa. SHE’s focus to drive economic growth and reclaim the taboo of menstruation by investing in girls and women have set a bold course for its vision to reach 1 million girls and women by 2013.
You can follow SHE on its website and blog or find them on Twitter and Facebook. We believe SHE are innovators, entrepreneurs, artists, advocates, world-transformers, bold blowers of the whistle, and glass-ceiling smashers. Come join us! Check out our SHE28 video and spread the word.